This Teaching and Learning Online (TLO) blog comes to you from sunny San Diego, California, USA where Professor Kathi Bailey and I will be giving two joint presentations at the 44th annual CATESOL conference, one of which will focus on how we can (re)create classroom communities in online courses. As well as being a past president of TESOL International (1998–1999), Bailey is also the president and chair of the Board of Trustees of The International Research Foundation (TIRF).
As it says on their website, TIRF “is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to generate new knowledge about English language teaching and learning. TIRF applies research findings to practical language problems by working collaboratively with teachers, researchers, authors, publishers, philanthropic foundations, government agencies, and major companies.”
Earlier this year, in May 2013, TIRF published an important 112-page report titled “A Case for Online English Language Teacher Education” (PDF), written by Professor Denise Murray, also a past president of TESOL International (1996–1997).
In the foreword to the report, Bailey explains that: “This topic [online language teacher education] is central to our ongoing discussions about English in the 21st-century workforce…As technological developments exert more and more influence on education in general, and teacher training in particular, it behooves us to understand the impact of those developments” (p.4).
In the report, which is freely available online, Murray compares online language teacher education (OLTE) to the American frontier, in the western United States in the nineteenth century: “However, as with all new enterprises, it can also be characterized as the ‘Wild West,’ with a certain amount of lawlessness and exploitation, of promises not kept” (p.13). As online teacher education is still largely such “uncharted territory,” Murray offers a cautionary note: “The prospective English teacher or the language teaching program searching for a quality online program needs to carefully sift through much of the online rhetoric” (p.13).
Murray found nearly 190 OLTE programs, of which approximately 100 were being offered by universities and colleges, with the rest being offered by professional associations and private companies. This gives some indication of the current scale and scope of this area. In terms of geographical distribution, more than 80% of the programs being offered (approximately 160) are based in English-dominant or Inner Circle countries, with nearly half of those 160 in the United States. This distribution reflects the fact that, at least for now: “The online commercialization of language education involves an export market of education, primarily to developing countries from rich countries” (p.13).
The findings of the report, which is based on 18 case studies of OLTE programs in different countries, are grouped under four main areas, with the set of findings that is particularly relevant to this paper coming under the heading of “Developing Communities of Practice.” Here, Murray stresses the importance of context: “Effective student learning requires collaborative, student-centered and student-created knowledge. It requires that students understand their local contexts within the global context so that they can test the theory and research input in the program against their own (and others’) professional contexts” (p.14). Murray also highlights here the importance of making students an essential part of a collaborative process.
Based on my TLO Part 2 (Aug 28), I would have changed the word order, and made it “LTEO,” so that language teacher education would have come first, with the “online” at the end. Also, I would like to have seen more input from the students on those OLTE programs, but, apart from that, I can highly recommend this report to anyone who is interested in this area. There is a clear and concise one-page executive summary, together with a summary of issues and trends in OLTE, and I would be happy to hear from anyone who has read the report.